Yeah, so, I’m not a contemporary reader. The older I get, the more I realise that it’s connected to growing up in a very different setting to the ones represented in most books – Switzerland is an utterly different world to the UK or US that it’s a completely different conversation from the diversity conversations that are had in publishing at the moment. And this is not me complaining – merely musing on why I’ve been struggling to relate to contemporary stories, especially in a YA space. But then, there come these rare gems that transcend that by being such powerful stories of self-discovery that they leave a profound impact on the reader. And Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is such a story.
Many many thanks to Bethany Carter and Faber Books for sending me an ARC of Felix Ever After for review. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 18/05/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Felix Love has never been in love – and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalisation too many – Black, queer and transgender – to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages – after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned – Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle . . .
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
OPINIONS: Hi, yes, this broke me. I love it with my whole heart, but it also led to much questioning of my whole identity – in a good way. Felix’ struggles with coming to terms with his identity and figuring out who he is deep down are extremely relatable and dig deeper than your average contemporary YA novel. While the setting of it is deeply rooted in its YA story, the issues that Felix faces are universal, and are ones that confront adults in their twenties, even their thirties just as much.
What are our relationships with our friends at their core? Who are we, really? And who do we value most? While I obviously can’t speak to the portrayal of the black or transgender experience, this twenty-eight year old queer got reaffirmed in queerness and discovered new things about myself that I was not able to put into words before. It is really to Kacen’s credit that they can manage to write such excellent books in a variety of genres – I haven’t read their middle grade books, but I really liked Queen of the Conquered and King of the Rising, the duology is nominated for the Subjective Kind of Chaos Awards, and you can read my review for King here. Not many authors show that range and sustained level of quality throughout all of their ventures, I am impressed. They are a treasure and I can’t wait to see where their career takes them next.
This really is a brilliant book throughout, and one that transcends over its status as a YA novel. It is highly recommended for anyone who might be thinking about their own gender or sexuality, or just generally likes to read widely. I love it with my whole heart even if it destroyed me at times.
The entire first print run of the UK paperback will have AMAZING flowery sprayed edges. So I highly suggest you actually pre-order this one and don’t just wait until you maybe see it in a bookshop at some point, because you might miss out on the epic first edition. Add Felix Ever After to Goodreads here, and pre-order your copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Cryptic title today. But it’s simply the main themes of the three novels that get mini reviews here: This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria, A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth and Nowhere on Earth by Nick Lake. I received NetGalley ARCs of all of these – thank you so much to the respective publicists – and as usual, all opinions are my own.
This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria is the story of Karis, a girl separated from her family long ago. She lives on an island belonging to the Scriptorium, a faction set on reactivating an automaton army. But then, Karis accidentally awakens Alix, an automaton with a mind of his own who has been deactivated for two centuries. This starts her on a quest that involves finding her family and rebellion. It is a compelling YA novel about standing up against an oppressive regime and fighting for what you believe in, but not an outstanding one. It feels like quite a few other recent titles, fitting well into the market but not innovating it. What I did really like about This Golden Flame is that Karis is outspokenly ace, and the story focused on friendships rather than romance. You can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth is a YA fantasy romp. Set in Toronto around a group of (more or less) teens with supernatural backgrounds – there are fae, there is an ex-fury and more – the main characters try to solve a string of murders before it is too late. It is very queer, and it is a lot of fun. But ultimately, the story didn’t live up to my expectations. I found the characters flat and felt little emotional investment. I simply did not care what happened. It is a perfectly solid book though, great escapism, and I can see how it would likely work better for readers who are huge fans of the Folk of the Air series or Sarah J. Maas’s books. Copies are available from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Nowhere on Earth by Nick Lake is set in Alaska, which makes it stand out. It is the story of Emily and her ‘brother’ Aidan, who turns out to be an alien, triggering a protective reflex in humans. They are on the run from pursuers, and on the way to a facility that will let Aidan call for rescue from Earth. It is a compelling read, flies by very fast, but there isn’t much substance to it. It felt like it kept missing the mark for me, whenever I thought that we were going to get some emotion and depth, the story moved on. It is clearly YA based on the MC, but from the way themes were addressed it had more of a MG feel to it. And that made the whole book seem a bit disjointed to me. I still enjoyed reading it, but I’m not really tempted to pick up more of the author’s work. Copies are available via Bookshop here, if you’re tempted (affiliate link).
Just like many of you, I really miss exploring the world. I miss going new places so much, but for now I have to do all my traveling with the help of novels for now. So I’m very happy that I’ve got to read some books with wonderful worlds recently – and here are mini reviews for a few of them!
These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy takes you to a Slavic inspired world, in a queer retelling of the story of the Firebird. Izaveta and Asya are sisters, one raised at court as the future ruler and the other with her aunt, the Firebird. The Firebird is a creature of magic, making deals with the people for favours in exchange for a steep price. This is a beautifully written tale of magic, sisterhood and growing up. It has all the elements of a great story, the kind of YA fantasy escapism that the world needs right now. It evokes some similar vibes to Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series or Lana Popivic’s Wicked Like Wilfire duology. I love it – I preordered my copy ages ago, and I can’t wait to reread this in its finished form. It came out on the 20th of April, and you can get your own copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Our next stop on this tour is the Spanish inspired Puerto Leones of Zoraida Cordova’s Illusionary. This is the second in a duology. Incendiary, the first one was one of the most compelling YA fantasy novels I read in 2020, and this follow-up takes everything I loved about it and made it even better. Renata Convida is a great leading lady, and the reader can’t help but be charmed by the rebel prince of Puerto Leones, Castian (and his brother Dez, raised by actual rebels). All of the characters undergo massive growth arcs over the course of the story, and I loved the way the book ended. It felt very apt, without being overly cliché. And we get to spend time with Leo again who is just an amazing cinnamon roll of a person. If you haven’t checked this series out yet, please do. Illusionary will be released on the 11th of May, and you can order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood takes you to Ethiopia. This reimagining of the classic Jane Eyre story interprets the heroine as a debtera, a religious sort of exorcist. Andromeda, orphan, thrown out by her mentor, takes a job in a fancy manor house, owned by a mysterious and rich man. While it largely follows the known storyline of the classic, Lauren Blackwood manages to twist it into something new and unexpected. Yes, obviously Andromeda and her dark and brooding employer end up together as they do in Charlotte Brontë’s version, but the journey there is what makes this interesting. It is deeply rooted in its Ethiopian background, and also explores the role of foreign, colonial, influences. This won’t be out until the 9th of November, but preorders are open, and you can get a copy via Blackwells here.
Last, but not least, our trip around the globe takes us to the US, to Oregon. You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao is a contemporary YA, though with a supernatural twist. Julie is shortly before high school graduation when Sam, her boyfriend, dies in a car accident. The story follows her as she navigates her grief, and rebuilds her life after this massive upheaval. But this isn’t made easier by her being able to call Sam on her phone. Somehow, they are able to have conversations across the boundaries between life and death, and Julie gets a chance to say goodbye all over again. This is heart-wrenching – though not as emotional as I was expecting it to be. But it’s still a very solid read, even if I personally didn’t fall in love with it. This is also not out until November, but you can pre-order a copy from Blackwell’s here.
So, a couple of hours I got an email from Edelweiss. The notification that I’ve been granted a digital ARC of The Heartbreak Bakery. I’ve had a bit of a crappy day today, so I thought I’d check out the beginning. Only, I just raced through the whole story and love it so much that I can’t wait to write about it. This is exactly what I needed, probably the queerest book I’ve ever read, and absolutely brilliant.
Massive thanks to Candlewick Press and Edelweiss for the eARC. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 12/10/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Syd (no pronouns, please) has always dealt with big, hard-to-talk-about things by baking. Being dumped is no different, except now Syd is baking at the Proud Muffin, a queer bakery and community space in Austin. And everyone who eats Syd’s breakup brownies . . . breaks up. Even Vin and Alec, who own the Proud Muffin. And their breakup might take the bakery down with it. Being dumped is one thing; causing ripples of queer heartbreak through the community is another. But the cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they, check the pronoun pin, it’s probably on the messenger bag), believes Syd about the magic baking. And Harley believes Syd’s magical baking can fix things, too—one recipe at a time. (from Candlewick)
OPINIONS: This book. It’s EXACTLY what I needed today – just like Syd’s baked goods would be. I adore the story, the characters, the writing. I’m probably slightly biased because the book worked so well for me today – but I think even without the context, it is pretty damn amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a book this quickly – it’s only been about two hours since I got my hands on it. This is why I am a reviewer – magical books that will find their perfect audience in the right moment and make a difference to someone’s life.
One of my favourite things about The Heartbreak Bakery is that it includes actual recipes. Some of them for abstract things, but many of them for baked goods, complete with Syd’s intention. And you can bet that I’m going to bake that strawberry peach basil pie ASAP. I’m very very hungry after reading this story… Also it might well be the queerest thing I’ve ever read. And I’ve been reading Anna-Marie McLemore and Charlie Jane Anders for a long time. So you know, standards are high.
And the characters are absolutely brilliant. Syd is going through so much character growth, it’s amazing to see, and her queer group of people around her are both interesting and heartwarming. This is a character-driven book, with hints of magic, and a lot of humour. When I think about what I consider a comfort read, this is exactly that – I think it will also appeal to readers who have loved T.J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea. It has those same kind of magical and comfy vibes. I love The Heartbreak Bakery with my whole heart.
This is a book you simply need. It is magic. Add it to Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from my favourite queer indie Portal Bookshop here. I know it’s not out for a while, but please support the author and get yourself an advance present!
This book blew my mind in the best possible way. Historical epic fantasy set in India, with two amazing sapphic leads. I was only a few pages in when I messaged a friend to yell about how much I love Priya. This was also a rare book that I started the day I received it (though it did take me a week to read it). I really hope this review doesn’t devolve in incoherent squeeing!
Massive thanks to Orbit (and also especially the friend who was kind enough to let me read her ARC), all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 08/06/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne.
The other is a priestess searching for her family.
Together, they will change the fate of an empire.
Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of powerful magic – but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
Priya is a maidservant, one of several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to attend Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, as long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides. But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled… (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I had to take breaks because it was just so full of relatable quotes, and I needed to process the awesomeness. I am absolutely in love with this book, and Tasha, feel free to keep stomping all over my heart any time. I need the sequel as soon as possible (yes, I’m aware that The Jasmine Throne isn’t out yet and won’t be for a while). Also, I need to learn more about medieval-ish India, because I’m fascinated by the world that this is set in. It’s not a pleasant world for everyone – and especially the roles of women are heavily regulated, but it is so interesting.
And damn, those characters. Priya and Malini are both god-tier leads, but I’m partial to Priya. She is such a badass and I am completely in love with her. Their relationship with each other is a joy to read – and it makes me very happy that there is not a huge focus on smooth sailing and a HEA. While there is a romance in the book, this is not a romance book at all. There is bickering and tension, and a strong foundation in friendship below it all. The characters are all fleshed out, even very minor players in the story aren’t just two-dimensional inserts but have their own wants and goals.
I already can’t wait to reread this when I get my hands on a finished copy, that’s how good this is. Add The Jasmine Throne to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Wench by Maxine Kaplan is one of those books I picked up because it sounded vaguely interesting, but I ended up liking a lot more than I expected. It is the story of a tavern wench, Tanya, who, after losing the tavern she was supposed to inherit, accidentally bonds with a magical quill that had been stolen. This is the start of a life she has never imagined possible. Wench is funny, addictive and sweet. It is also queer (I think Tanya is either bi or pan and likely poly, but because of the setting it’s not addressed directly). This is YA escapist fantasy how it should be. Don’t expect a deep story but be prepared to disappear into fantasy land for a few hours. Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Now, it’s no secret that I love fairy-tale like stories, especially twisted ones. And The Shadow in the Glass by J.J.A. Harwood is one of the good ones. It is a story in which the main character, Ella, goes from innocent Cinderella-type to the villain in her own story. She is offered a deal by her fairy godmother, but this is no Disney fairy. It corrupts here and unaware, Ella does things she never thought possible of herself. I devoured this deliciously dark story and can’t wait to read more of the author. It is the kind of book you get emotionally invested in and suffer along with the characters. Give this twisty tale a shot! Order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Honor Among Thieves by Ann Aguirre and Rachel Caine has been out for a while, but I only read it recently (why am I so terrible with reading books I should read?!). This is a story of a future in which Earth has been contacted by aliens, the Leviathan. Think of them as a sort of giant space whales. Each year, a group of humans gets invited to join the Leviathan on a journey through space, using them as a sort of living spaceship. And now Zara Cole, who grew up on the streets as part of a criminal gang, has been invited. She travels into space on board Nadim, and learns about the universe in ways she did not expect. I read this in a single sitting, it is so addictive. I was very excited because this is a story that focuses on character building and friendship rather than romance. I wouldn’t classify this fully as an asexual series, as it goes a bit into that in the second volume, but I would definitely recommend it as a book that goes in that direction. The authors have managed to build a fascinating world in this series, although I didn’t love book two as much as the first one. Still need to read the third, but I’m really looking forward to it! Order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
SO MANY fabulous books that are coming out in May. For reasons of space I’m not going to be talking about any that are in my 2021 post (which you can find here) or ones that I’ve reviewed (such as Ariadne by Jennifer Saint, review here) or that I will be reviewing in the next couple of weeks (such as Illusionary by Zoraida Cordova). This is entirely based on the books I can’t wait to read.
First on my list is Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard. I’ve heard loads of good things about this one, and I might have been begging publicists for this one… But alas, I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy yet. It sounds like an epic fantasy romp, with a misfit band of heroes, treating the fine line between YA tropeyness and Grimdark tones. This will be the perfect escapist book to read in May. It’s out on the 4th, and copies are available on Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I’ve you’ve been following me for a while, you might have noticed that I have a thing for books based on medieval legends (such as in this post on Arthurian retellings). So it goes without saying that I’m excited for Laure Eve’s Blackheart Knights. An Arthurian-inspired novel, using motorbikes instead of horses and set in a modern world. From the blurb, because that team managed to write it better than I ever could: Imagine a city where a young, magic-touched bastard astonishes everyone by becoming king – albeit with extreme reluctance – and a girl with a secret past trains to become a knight for the sole purpose of vengeance. […] Imagine Camelot but in Gotham: a city where knights are the celebrities of the day, riding on motorbikes instead of horses and competing in televised fights for fame and money. It sounds brilliant, and I’m looking forward to my review copy – I’ll probably be reviewing it over on Grimdark Magazine though. This is out on the 27th, and you can order your copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I really enjoyed Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, once I got over myself, thinking that I wouldn’t like it because it’s contemporary romance. But it was such a soothing, wonderful audiobook that I’m now very excited for their next book, One Last Stop. It’s a new adult f/f romance, with a speculative twist, about two girls who meet on the subway – but one of them is from the present day and the other from the 1970s! It sounds funny and cute, and might be just what I need these days. It’s out on May 6th, and you can get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link) – though I’ll probably get the audio!
I’ve really been getting back into mysteries recently, and as someone who LOVES food, I’m very excited for Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. Deeply rooted in Filipino culture, this is the story of Lila, who is trying to save her Tita’s restaurant when an ex-boyfriend suddenly drops dead. As she’s the cops’ only suspect, Lila decides to take the investigation into her own hands. This sounds like a wonderful escapist read, and I can’t wait. It’s out on the 4th, and you can get a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Hi, my name is Fab and I’m a Rick Riordan fangirl. And that includes the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, which lets authors write about the mythology of the culture they’re closest to. And so I’m naturally very excited about The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim. Based on Korean legends, and featuring witches, this is the kind of middle grade the world (and I need). It centres Riley, a girl in a powerful clan of healing witches, but without power of her own as she is adopted. When she and her sister attempt a spell to share her sister’s magic, all hell breaks loose. It sounds cute and compelling, and I’m excited. Out on the 4th of May, you can get a copy from Amazon here.
I might already be rereading this book and it’s not even released yet. This was one of my most anticipated YA novels on my list of 2021 releases – it’s dark, it’s queer and it’s edgy in the best possible sense. It also has mythology vibes to it which you might have noticed I’m really into. And it has one of my favourite covers of the year – which looks even better in physical than I thought! (Spot gloss for the win)
Massive thanks to Kate Keehan at Hodder for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 18/05/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: In Thanopolis, magic is rare – and closely controlled. Those blessed – or cursed – with power are kept under constant guard, assigned to undead spirits who watch their every move.
Ever since her father died to save her from this fate, Rovan has kept her magic a closely guarded secret – until an accident exposes her powers for the world to see, and her tenuous freedom comes crashing to an end.
Brought to the royal palace against her will, and thrust into a maelstrom of intrigue and deception, Rovan is drawn to two people she cannot fully trust: Lydea, a beguiling and rebellious princess struggling against her own destiny, and Ivrilos, the handsome, powerful spirit she has been bound to, who can control Rovan, body and soul.
Together, they uncover a terrible secret that could destroy everyone in Thanopolis – the living and the dead. To save them, Rovan will have to start a rebellion in both the mortal world and the underworld, and find a way to trust the princess and the undead spirit vying for her heart – if she doesn’t betray them first . . . (from Hodder & Stoughton)
OPINIONS: I love this book. A pansexual bloodmage gets pulled into a supernatural conspiracy and fights the patriarchy? Yes please. While I was super excited for this I was a bit worried that it would be too edgy and over the top (I recently got burned that way), but this balances that fine line perfectly. There is technically a love triangle in the sense that Rovan is interested in two different people, but when it comes to love and relationships, the main sentiment in this book is acceptance. Acceptance of who the other person is, what they might want and a huge step away from what society might think right. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of toxicity in this story, but it doesn’t come from the characters at its centre.
There is an intricate system of magic in the world of this story, with bloodmages – who carry bloodlines handed down through the generations, and death magic. There are also ghosts, introduced as protectors of the bloodmages but revealed to be far more than that. There is politics and plotting too. In short, In the Ravenous Dark contains all of the elements necessary for a strong story. And – as I was discussing books as metal bands with a friend recently – this was my suggestion for a book that matched the atmosphere of Black Sabbath. A bit classic, a bit edgy, going into goth territory but ultimately groovy and comforting.
And today we have Gabriela Houston and her debut The Second Bell stopping in. This one not only sounds brilliant, but I’ve also reviewed it on Grimdark Magazine (read my review here). I loved this book so much, and I hope this will make you want to check it out too. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Please tell us about your book
The Second Bell is a Slavic-mythology-inspired fantasy novel, about a striga and her mother.
In a remote community, sometimes a child is born with two hearts. Such a child is considered a monster and is cast out. My story follows a mother who chose to leave with her baby and a 19-year-old striga woman, as they navigate the strict social rules governing the striga village they live in and struggle against the taboos threatening to tear them apart.
How did you celebrate its release?
Under lockdown a celebration is a relative term. I had two different takeouts with my family during the day and then joined a zoom launch for my book which was lovely.
Why and when did you start writing in earnest?
I have always been quite earnest about my artistic pursuits, but it wasn’t until after my first child was born that I made the conscious decision to set up writing as a priority in my life. It works differently for different people, but for me that time in my life gave me the razor sharp focus on what I needed to make space in my life for.
How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?
Before The Second Bell I wrote one unpublishable moloch of a fantasy epic. I think it took me too long to complete it, and that resulted in a very uneven, underedited mess. It had some good bones and got a bit of initial interest from agents, but in the end I’m glad it didn’t find a home.
It was a huge learning curve. I made ALL the mistakes. And that’s great. I try not to make the same ones twice.
How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?
I wouldn’t say it changed so much as all my plans and ambitions suddenly became more likely to be realised, which is a wonderful thing. It definitely gives you the push to work more, as you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed.
What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?
No regrets. Except for the one phrase I should have edited out, which I found in the published book. That will haunt me for all eternity.
What challenges do you face as a published author?
I guess my experience so far has been so good, I need to be prepared that not everything will go as smoothly from now on necessarily! As a writer there’s a lot you have no control over, sadly, and I like the control.
Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?
Extremely! I have met some incredible people – bloggers, instagrammers, podcasters, other writers! All of whom are passionate about books and are rooting for the debut authors to succeed which is fantastic.
How has the pandemic affected you creatively?
I wrote a book and a half during the first lockdown (UK), which was great. Since then it’s been up and down to be honest, but with all the pre-launch work I was doing, there wasn’t much time to wallow really (and I did want to wallow, for sure!)
Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?
It’s really hard to tell. There are themes tackled in the book that correspond to some of the wider issues at the moment, but whether or not they would have been seen in the same way under more normal circumstances is really hard to tell, especially as I don’t have much to compare it to.
How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?
I have defied my agent’s directive to never ever go on Goodreads about a month before the book came out. I guess when you’re dealing with the publishers, your agent, and bloggers/magazine reviewers so much, you get lulled into a false sense of security, where you think “We all like books, right? Book people are my kind of people, the never-be-mean sort of people, who, if they dislike the book, will phrase their reservations in a kind, compassionate manner.”
Needless to say, I will never again go on Goodreads.
On a serious note though, even knowing that you can’t please everyone, there is no way you can prepare for people being unkind or dismissive about the work you’ve poured so much love into. But you grow thicker skin. Eventually.
What are you planning next?
I have a couple projects ready to query, and a couple of ideas more, but nothing’s set in stone for the moment.
Do you have a set writing routine?
I try to write every day (or pre-launch do writing work every day). I have a writing buddy who I meet on zoom and we both do our work with each other’s faces hovering in the corner of the screen. It helps to keep you motivated, and having someone to talk through the thorny plot bits with is incredibly helpful.
What is your preferred writing soundtrack?
I don’t always have one. It has to be something I know well though, or else I start focusing on the lyrics too much.
Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?
Both and either. I’m not picky, but I like sipping on something hot while writing.
What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?
Strangers reaching out on social media to tell me they loved the book and that it meant something to them. It never fails to move me.
What books (or other media) have you loved recently?
What can I say, Charlie Jane Anders is a badass. I fell in love with her writing when I picked up All The Birds In The Sky in a bookstore years ago, and have been a fan ever since. Besides being an awesome author, she co-runs the brilliant Our Opinions Are Correct podcast all about speculative fiction (I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t yet). And now she’s written her first YA novel. Victories Greater Than Death is a fun queer found-family romp through space!
Massive thanks to Titan and Netgalley for an eARC of this brilliant novel. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 13/04/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’–she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic–she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.
But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed–and everyone in the galaxy is expecting her to actually be the brilliant tactician and legendary savior Captain Thaoh Argentian, but Tina….is just Tina. And the Royal Fleet is losing the war, badly–the starship that found her is on the run and they barely manage to escape Earth with the planet still intact.
Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself. (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: This was such an incredibly fun book to read. Take Charlie Jane Anders’ smart science fiction for adults, cross it with the ridiculousness of Doctor Who and add a good pinch of queer found family. I loved the cast of human teen misfits being drafted aboard a space ship to try and save the galaxy, led by Tina, a legendary general reborn. It’s hard to pick favourites – Tina, slowly getting memory back from her past life and turning into a huge purple alien, Rachael, the ‘ordinary friend’ who has to deal with anxiety on top of being in space, or Elza, Brazilian badass with bonding issues, among others. I just want to hug them all and reassure them.
This book is full of diversity, both on surface level, but also deeper down. Rachael’s issues with anxiety are described with nuance and resonated a lot with me. Most characters introduce themselves with their pronouns immediately, and many choose to use neopronouns. Victories Greater Than Death has queerness in its bones, and I love it. I also really appreciated how, in her acknowledgements, Charlie Jane mentions multiple sensitivity readers for different aspects of the book. It shows the care and effort that she put into this.
All of this is packaged in a big-scale space adventure, both thrilling and fun. And yes, the teens are more skilled and powerful than they have any right to be, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story. The enemy operates with a weapon that changes the perception of its victims in the eyes of their friends and allies, and if that’s not scary I don’t know what is. It’s brilliant escapism, think Firefly-style shenanigans but with a misfit gang of teens. Read it.